3. Do Back-to-School Shopping for a Child in Need

(This post is part of my year-long series 40 New Things at 40.)

I love shopping for school supplies. As a child, I looked forward to it every year. If I close my eyes, I can still clearly picture my very first school bag, bright red with silver buckles, emblazoned with the logo of the 1981 movie version of the musical Annie. (It looked kind of like this, except I don’t remember the main image being cartoon Annie and Sandy.) It helped me through the difficult first day of kindergarten, when I was homesick and missed my mom and a mean boy told me I had a fat belly. Pretty much every year, I would get a new backpack (except when my grandparents got my brother and me L.L. Bean backpacks, which lasted and lasted) and a colorful assortment of notebooks, folders (I still miss my Trapper Keeper), pencils, erasers, and other supplies. When I grew up, I looked forward to going back-to-school shopping with my own kids. Continue reading “3. Do Back-to-School Shopping for a Child in Need”

This Body of Dust

If you ever feel like you don’t have enough insecurities about your body, try looking through some bridal magazines. And then go to a store and try on dresses like the ones in those magazines. Look in the mirror and notice that your body looks so different in the dresses from those women in the magazines that you might as well be two different species. Voilà! Instant body insecurities! It sure worked for me, anyway. It doesn’t help that while cleaning out my closet the other day, I came across a picture of me from the time just over a decade ago when, for about a year, I was as close as I will ever come to my ideal weight. That picture tortured me maybe even more than the pictures of models in magazines. My eyes filled with tears looking at it as I thought, That’s the body I want to get married in. Why couldn’t I have had my wedding then?! I obsessed about how much better that body would look in my wedding dress (and my wedding night lingerie) and in all the hundreds of photos that will be taken of me on that day. But instead, I will get hundreds of photos of this body I have now, the one that is regrettably far from ideal. Continue reading “This Body of Dust”

Extremis: A Netflix documentary on end of life issues

extremisThis week, a short documentary premiered on Netflix. In less than half an hour, Extremis follows several different patients and their families facing end of life decisions, as well as the doctors caring for them. These people were very brave in allowing the film crew to capture such intimate and heart wrenching moments. Everybody dies. We all know that on an intellectual level, but for most of us it doesn’t become real until we are faced with the undeniable fact that we or someone we love is dying. And with the medical technology available in 21st century hospitals, death can often be postponed. The documentary raises many questions, but perhaps the most crucial one is, What counts as life for you? Continue reading “Extremis: A Netflix documentary on end of life issues”

“I’m Sorry for Your Loss, and Congratulations.”

FullSizeRender 10On Tuesday morning, my boyfriend’s mother died. No warning, no easily determinable cause of death. She just up and died. He and his family were in shock. So I went with him to stay at his sister’s house, while the whole family tried to absorb this news and begin adjusting to their new normal. Time seemed to slow down. The grief in the house was palpable. On Wednesday morning, I sat with Will and his family around the kitchen table as his sister Ginny read us the obituary she was writing. And that evening, Will, his sisters, and their father spoke with the funeral director to plan their mother’s service. A few minutes later, Will invited me to take a walk with him down to the dock on Lake Murray, where he asked me to marry him.  Continue reading ““I’m Sorry for Your Loss, and Congratulations.””

Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story?

Like millions of other people, I’ve spent the past few months obsessed with the soundtrack to the Broadway musical Hamilton. If you’re not familiar with the play, it dramatizes the life of founding father Alexander Hamilton, telling the story through modern American musical styles. It is brilliant and funny and moving. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve listened to it, and I still cry every time. Before he puts young Hamilton in charge of a battalion of soldiers to fight a crucial Revolutionary War battle, General George Washington sings words of paternal wisdom and caution: Continue reading “Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story?”

Living in Imaginary Worlds

Recently I discovered and fell in love with a podcast called Imaginary Worlds. Host Eric Molinsky explores many of the fictional worlds we know from pop culture, but often with a unique and very intelligent spin. It was his five-part series on Star Wars that hooked me (which will come as no surprise to anyone who knows my lifelong devotion to that franchise), and made me think about the movies and expanded universe in new ways. In one episode, historians and Star Wars scholars discussed the cultural/political factors in 1977 that led to the original movie becoming such a phenomenon. Subsequent episodes delved into the “Han shot first” controversy from an ethical standpoint, asked whether the Empire saw itself as evil or was taking what it saw as reasonable steps to bring order to a chaotic galaxy, featured a rabbi who compared the Star Wars expanded universe to the rabbinic commentary on the Torah called midrash, and debated whether “Slave Leia” could be seen as a symbol of female empowerment or was a misogynistic wrong turn in the character’s journey best left forgotten. I listened to those episodes multiple times, then went back and listened to every episode since the podcast began in 2014. It got me thinking about how much of my time is spent in imaginary worlds, not just when I lose myself in fiction, but when I do my job as a chaplain. Continue reading “Living in Imaginary Worlds”

M is for Morgue

(This post is part of my ongoing series ABCs of Hospital Chaplaincy.)

The sign by the door reads “Decedent Affairs.” It’s a euphemism. Nobody whose loved one is being treated in the hospital, or who is actually a patient there, wants to see the word “Morgue” as they walk down the hallway. That’s the rationale, as I understand it. But the morgue is there. We all die sometime, whether or not we want to admit it, and a lot of us die in hospitals. When that happens, the morgue is where a body stays until it is picked up by the funeral home. Continue reading “M is for Morgue”

Writing Blindly and Remembering DEG

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This is the dedication page of my new book, Being Called Chaplain: How I Lost My Name and (Eventually) Found My Faith. It was an easy decision whose names should go on that page. I wish I could tell you about Sam. God, I loved Sam. But because I met Sam through my work at the hospital, confidentiality has to be protected. DEG, on the other hand, I can tell you a lot about him. He is never far from my thoughts, and today especially, he’s on my mind and in my heart. Dr. Daniel E. Goodman, my friend and divinity school professor, died on January 13, 2009, six years ago today. Continue reading “Writing Blindly and Remembering DEG”

H is for Hope

(This is part of my ongoing series, ABCs of Hospital Chaplaincy.)

It is the thing with feathers that perches in the soul, according to Emily Dickinson. Nietzsche said it is the worst of all evils. And on my dark days, I think it’s stupid (though not really). In a hospital, hope can make the difference, if not between life and death, then certainly between life and mere survival. Dum spiro, spero. “While I breathe, I hope.” Even when the people I meet in the hospital are fighting for each breath, or when they are hoping that the next breath will be their last, I watch them wrestle with what it means to hope.  Continue reading “H is for Hope”

D is for Death

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(This is the fourth in my series, ABCs of Hospital Chaplaincy. Read other posts in the series here.)

“He then greeted Death as an old friend and went with him gladly, departing this life as equals.”

Sometimes I forget how different my perspective is from that of most “normal” people. Then my roommate asks me, “How was work last night?” I reply, “Not too bad. Just two deaths and a trauma.” She laughs and I look at her quizzically. “Sorry,” she says, “but you’re the only person I know who would call two deaths in one shift ‘not too bad.’ Your job is so weird.” I guess she has a point. Working in a hospital, encountering death on such a routine basis, is more than a little weird. Continue reading “D is for Death”